In a program where students learn best through hands-on practical application, navigating the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic can be a challenge.

Illinois State’s therapeutic recreation (TR) program has collaborated with the Illinois Parks and Recreation Association’s New Professionals Committee to deliver practical learning opportunities for students this past year. 

“I knew that a lot of community-based organizations in our profession were offering programs to their clients virtually as a result of the pandemic, and thought that was a great idea. I had to make sure TR students, especially those enrolled in the technique course, were still presented with learning opportunities. Collaboration in our field is always important, and having students observe and work with young professionals is a great learning opportunity,” said Rachel Smith, TR faculty member.

The New Professionals Committee is composed of individuals who have been working in the field for five years or less and operates with a goal of expanding networking and outreach opportunities.

Through the collaboration, the committee has worked to allow Illinois State TR students to observe and participate in virtual therapeutic programming that the North West Special Recreation Association (NWSRA) offers to its clients. NWSRA is an organization that provides opportunities for individuals with disabilities through various recreational programming.

“We know how hard it is to find internships and gain experience as a student, and when the pandemic hit, it became even more difficult,” said Janae Winston, recreation specialist with NWSRA. “We used the advantage of the virtual programming’s accessibility to give students an opportunity to see what it is like to work with participants of these programs.”

The virtual programs allow students to see how therapeutic techniques work through recreational activities like cooking, exercise, art, and social-based programming.

“The students that I’ve had sit in on some of my programs have been very involved and participative, and the program participants were always excited to see the students there. Some (students) have even reached out for more volunteer opportunities, so it has been an awesome collaboration,” said Winston.

The committee has also presented Illinois State students with additional learning opportunities, by presenting curriculum in courses and speaking as panel members at the recent TR Summit.

“We are hopeful that the partnership goes on for a while,” said Cay Collier, a collaborative coordinator with NWSRA. “Hopefully, as long as some aspect of opportunity for virtual programming continues, this sort of opportunity will continue to be available for students.”

Want to learn more about therapeutic recreation at Illinois State? Visit the School of Kinesiology and Recreation’s website for more information.